Sunday, November 29, 2020
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Editorial: Faculty Handbook

  • Theresa Lim ’20

Every August, all students at SHP sign a form indicating they have read and agree to the current year’s student/parent handbook. Found in the SHP Resources section of the school website, the handbook has guidelines about different aspects of student life: dress code, attendance, finals, etc.

Unbeknownst to many students, faculty and staff also have a handbook – the aptly named Faculty/Staff Handbook – which contains guidelines for teachers and includes sections on topics important to students, such as consistency across sections of a class or honors convocation. Despite this, for students, the Faculty/Staff handbook is nowhere to be found, and I wondered why. Shouldn’t students have the right to know the rules that govern them, even if indirectly through teachers?

Of course, nothing is as simple as it initially seems, and SHP Principal Dr. Jennie Whitcomb helped clarify the issue. Simply put, “you [students] aren’t employees,” said SHP Principal Dr. Jennie Whitcomb, “The handbook details basic expectations for how we do our work as faculty. It is not like a building code that details exact requirements; it’s more general.” In other words, the faculty handbook does not dictate exactly what actions must be taken but provides basic guidelines, which allows teachers to determine how they run their own classes. More specific requirements, such as grading policy, are determined at the departmental level or by each individual teacher. Thus, Dr. Whitcomb believes that the faculty handbook on the whole is not useful to students and that releasing it in full to the students would be detrimental to the student-teacher relationship, undermining “teacher autonomy.”

Fine Arts Department Head Ms. Lauren Benjamin echoed these sentiments, saying, “students should not have to hold teachers accountable. That’s the job of our administration, and in some cases, the Human Resources department.” In other words, ideally, the role of a student is to trust and learn from the teacher, not to police their behavior. Both recommended that, if a student feels that expectations are not being met, they go to a department head or another adult whose job is to enforce the faculty handbook. Ms. Benjamin also recommended, “when the school makes an effort to reach out to students, for example with surveys, students should take these opportunities seriously” and write openly about their experiences in the classroom, both positive and negative.

Surveys are a major way in which issues are resolved, and honest student feedback is crucial to this process. These are important considerations, and I agree that it would not be a good idea to release the faculty handbook in full. I trust the judgement of Dr. Whitcomb and Ms. Benjamin when they say that there is information in the faculty handbook that would be “inappropriate” for students to access. However, as a student, I am compelled to share my own perspective on the issue. I believe that in an ideal world, students would not ever have to question the judgement of their teachers and thus would not need to hold teachers accountable.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world, and there are instances in which students must be able to initiate an informed dialogue with their teachers. As such, it is fair for students to know what to expect from their teachers and, if things go wrong, to know what matters to bring to the attention of administration. I, of course, have never read the faculty handbook because I am a student. Unfortunately, this means that I do not know specifically what information in the faculty handbook would be helpful to students. I do know, however, because of my meeting with Dr. Whitcomb, that such information exists. For example, the faculty handbook states that different sections of the same course should be “roughly comparable.”

Although this is important information for students to know, it is not information that would be in the student handbook since it does not pertain to student behavior. While this expectation may seem like common sense, knowing that it is an official rule makes a difference. This would help students know that their possible concerns about consistency across sections of the same class are valid and thus going to a department head or administration is justified. In other words, greater transparency about expectations could empower increased student communication by helping students know which concerns are serious enough to warrant reaching out to an adult. This is just one example of information in the faculty handbook that could be beneficial to students and one that I believe should be communicated to the student body.

It is possible that this is the only piece of information of this kind in the faculty handbook; it is equally possible that there is a plethora of similar information. Currently, students and administration alike cannot possibly know if this information exists since students do not know what is in the faculty handbook and administration do not know what information would be beneficial to release. Thus, the most reasonable solution would be to have a group of students, faculty, and administration review the faculty handbook together and discuss what information, if any, would be beneficial to release to students. Only by having all the stakeholders at the table can anyone make an informed decision.

Photo from Grady Municipal Schools

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